Rating: 3 stars
Type: Pure Electric
Range: 62 miles
Power: 20 hp
Top Speed: 50 mph
Weight: 473 kg (375 minus battery)
By Farah Alkhalisi April 3, 2012 5:12 PM
The Twizy is not the answer to all our motoring needs, but it widens the range of mobility solutions and boasts some serious electric propulsion technology. While we're not entirely sure what it would be best used for (commuting, tourism...) it definitely offers way more than your average golf cart.
There are few obvious candidates for a like-for-like comparison with the Twizy; Renault namechecks the Piaggio MP3 three-wheeled scooter as well as the Smart Fortwo and Toyota iQ, though in reality, the Twizy’s more of an alternative to, say, a G-Wiz or Aixam Mega City. It’s not a full-sized car, it’s not fully-enclosed and it doesn’t have full car capabilities.
So what can it do? It has potential as an urban commuting machine, a runaround vehicle on estates or campuses, or for tourist use at resorts and for localised exploring and errands. But if all this sounds a bit too familiar and NEV (Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle), then it does have one very big unique selling point: it’s got a lot more go than the average golf cart.
In fact, it’s an absolute hoot to drive, a point very much in its favour and a good reason why you might well, should you have £7000 or so to spare, find a use for it in your life.
The Twizy is more visually exciting than the average golf cart, too. Part Smart, part space-pod, part scooter, it sits four-square on its skinny-tyred buggy-wheels. It’s smaller than a Fortwo in all directions, only marginally wider than a Honda Goldwing motorcycle, and much, much tinier than Renault’s smallest ‘proper’ car, the tiddly Twingo. It can be parked nose-in to a kerb, opening up all sorts of possibilities for easy parking, and in some European countries (but not the UK) it can be left legally in motorcycle bays.
Three decorative colours – red, blue, green – can be chosen in combination with white, grey or black for the main body structure, and Renault is offering a variety of accessories, sticker packs and options to personalise each Twizy, including different wheel designs.
The optional ‘gull-wing’ doors (£545) are the most eye-catching feature, however; these swivel upwards via a lever control and allow easy access in narrow spaces. There are no windows or even locks, however; their function is purely to give a little protection against the elements when on the move.
The Twizy’s powertrain is actually relatively simple: a single-speed automatic gearbox with just three push-button settings – Drive, Neutral, Reverse – and the 17hp motor, plus regenerative braking to recover some of the energy otherwise lost under deceleration, and a 100kg lithium-ion battery.
The no-frills dash display has a handy diagram showing which way the energy is flowing in and out of the battery (lift off whilst cruising to watch it gain charge) and indicates the remaining range and charge levels, but that’s about it. A radio, two-speaker sound system and input for mobile music devices come in an extra-cost accessory pack.
INTERIOR & COMFORT
There’s not a lot of interior, and not really a lot of comfort. Exceedingly pleasant for trundling around tourist-style and bumbling down to the beach in Ibiza, it could be a bit more of a hard-core experience during a wet British winter. There’s not even a heater. Still, think in terms of it being drier and warmer than a scooter, a pushbike or the bus queue: there is a roof, you can wear your waterproofs (Renault is likely to offer some bike-style wet-weather gear, including a zip-in coverall) and the doors do offer some protection from wind and rain.
The driver’s seating position is roomy, with loads of elbow room and headroom, and the seat can be adjusted forwards/backwards although the backrest is fixed in position. The passenger has a little less space – feet will go either side of the driver’s seat – but again, it’s all perfectly acceptable as an alternative to riding pillion on a two-wheeler.
The main drawback is the lack of secure luggage space: if you put a bag on the back seat, there’s always the danger that a thief could reach in whilst you’re stopped at traffic lights, as well as of the bag falling forwards. There are two small compartments behind and under the passenger seat, plus a deepish cubby hole in the dashboard, but these aren’t large enough for a decent-sized shopping bag, and are fiddly to get to. Renault’s optional zip-up 50-litre bag, which fastens onto the rear seat, may be some form of compromise.
The cabin is rubber-floored and it’s all easily wash-downable, which you may be thankful for if you leave a Twizy parked where people can chuck burger wrappers, drinks cans and worse through its open sides. Renault will probably offer a lightweight cover for it, which should help.
Though the driver’s seat is reasonably well-shaped and supportive, the ride – suspension developed with help from Renaultsport – is hard and rather unforgiving. You’ll need to take it easy over speed bumps and potholes, as the Twizy can jolt and jar.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
This is when the Twizy is at its most car-like: no twist-grip throttle, but a conventional steering wheel and two-pedal set-up. There’s no need for power-assisted steering or brake servos – it’s a pure, direct and intuitive interface and though you’ll need to be quite firm with your braking foot, stopping power is perfectly adequate given the speeds you’re likely to be reaching. All four wheels have disc brakes.
The rack-and-pinion steering connects with the MacPherson strut-type suspension, and is well-weighted without being heavy; the tiny 3.4m turning circle is tighter than that of any other four-wheeler, and it feels impressively stable and solid. Though caution is advised on high-speed cornering – no ABS or stability control to come to your rescue – the Twizy is every bit as adept as you’d hope from a vehicle touched by the hands of the Renaultsport team.
Acceleration is quoted as 6.1 seconds 0-28mph and 8.1 seconds 18-37mph, which basically means that you’ve got enough get-up-and-go to pull away fairly briskly, to merge into traffic flow and keep pace in an urban, suburban or country-lane environment. In fact, there’s enough urge for the Twizy to be great fun – the little motor whirrs away, the wind blows your hair, and it’s hard not to raise a smile as the full 57Nm of torque kicks in. It’s smooth as it builds speed, it’s surprisingly sporty-feeling, and in short, it’s a darn good laugh.
Highway driving will be more of a white-knuckle matter, but you could cope if you’re sensible and realistic about the Twizy’s capabilities, and happy to crawl along in the slow lane. In any case, its range is going to limit your long-distance cross-country travel.
RANGE & CHARGING
Though the maximum range quoted is 100km (62 miles), Renault is quite upfront about the fact that 70-80km is more realistic in everyday driving, even if you’re careful. The range will fall lower yet if you’re heading everywhere flat-out, obviously, but the full 100km is achievable if you learn some eco-driving habits. The econometer in the dash will tell you how well (or poorly) you’re doing on this score.
A full charge takes just 3.5 hours, via a pull-out three-metre cord and plug housed in the Twizy’s nose; it can be plugged in to a domestic 220volt power supply.
As a quadricycle, the Twizy doesn’t have to meet the same crash protection standards as a full-scale car, but it should be one of the more solid of its type; it’s been through an extensive crash-testing programme in Renault’s car facilities.
The driver has a four-point harness (a conventional three-point seatbelt plus a strap over the other shoulder) and the passenger a three-point belt, and there’s a driver’s airbag to protect in the event of a frontal collision.
The upfront purchase prices do initially appear on the high side for a vehicle of this type – the range-topping Twizy Technic is £7,400 - and as a quadricycle, the Twizy does not qualify for government grants. Battery lease (mandatory, as Renault is not going to sell the batteries outright) starts from £45 a month and can cost up to £67 a month, depending on the lease term and the annual mileage, which also looks like a hefty extra outlay.
However, think about it from a different perspective: buyers don’t have to take any responsibility for the batteries, as all their maintenance is included, and there’s a four-year warranty with free servicing (required annually). So the price is effectively offset in this all-in package – and mitigated further by the typical £1 for a full recharge, free road tax and exemption from the London congestion charge.
As urban congestion and energy prices continue to rise, we’re going to have to look at alternative ways of getting about. The Twizy is the first of a new breed of vehicle, which crosses the boundaries between car and scooter and combines some of the best parts of both: it marks a significant step forwards from the quadricycles and golf carts previously seen. It’s not going to do the job for everyone, but in the right context, could work very well indeed.
RENAULT TWIZY IN NUMBERS...
Trim level tested: Technic
Range: 62 miles
Acceleration: 6.1 seconds 0-28mph, 8.1 seconds 18-37mph
Top speed: 50mph
Max power: 17bhp
Torque: 57Nm (42lb ft.)
Kerb weight: 473kg
Type: Lithium ion
Recharge time: 3.5 hours from 220v
Height: 1,454mm (1980mm with doors fully open)